Woman Greer, Germaine (1939 - )

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Academic, Feminist, Journalist and Writer

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Since the publication of her book The Female Eunuch in 1970, Germaine Greer has been a prominent figure in international feminism and acknowledged as a leading force in the spread of second wave feminism. She was born in Melbourne in 1939, growing up in Mentone and attending the Star of the Sea Convent in Gardenvale. A brilliant student, she won a Commonwealth scholarship to the University of Melbourne, where she studied English and French. She then moved to Sydney, where the social and intellectual milieu of the Sydney 'Push' suited her political bent, which she was already describing as anarchist. She taught English at the University of Sydney while completing her MA thesis, The Development of Byron's Satiric Mode. The thesis won her a Scholarship to Cambridge University, UK, where she became a member of the women's college, Newnham.

During her time as a student in Australia, Germaine Greer had developed a reputation for her political views and outspokenness, particularly her ability to speak and act in ways that challenged expectations of conventional female behaviour. This continued in Britain where she joined the Cambridge Footlights theatrical group, which introduced her to the up and coming actors and comedians of the day, and also reached prominence through writing for the satirical, anti-establishment paper, Oz, founded by fellow Australian Richard Neville and Felix Dennis. She was also an editor of Amsterdam-based paper, Suck.

Greer completed her doctorate on Shakespeare in 1967 and took up a lectureship at Warwick University. It was here she wrote The Female Eunuch, one of the seminal texts of second wave feminism. Its central argument was that women's liberation depended on sexual liberty. Traditional family life repressed women socially, financially, but even more dangerously it repressed their sexuality. Without a sense of themselves as sexual beings, women were thus prevented from having a view of themselves as powerful and active, instead submitting to the passive, impotent feminine stereotype, shamed by their own body and desires. Among her key claims were that Western society was based on the restriction and repression of women's sexuality; that the nuclear family rather than the foundation of civilised life was damaging for women and children; and that girls learn to be submissive, and to feel inferior to men, from a very young age.

Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's ulterior motives - to be fattened or made docile - women have been cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigour for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed (New York Times, 22 March 1971).

Greer's revolutionary views and her writing style - direct, honest, bawdy, intelligent and explicit - captured the minds of a generation of young (and older) women who were ready for a political analysis of gender inequality that resonated with their own experience of life. It became an almost instant best seller and was quickly translated into many different languages. Many women who read it claimed it changed their lives, allowing them to discover paths beyond the conventional expectations of nuclear family life.

In 1972, Greer resigned from Warwick University and took on a variety of pursuits, working as a journalist, broadcaster, columnist and reviewer. She co-presented a television program, wrote a regular column for the Sunday Times and travelled through India and Asia. In 1979, she returned to academia, taking up a position at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, USA, as director of the Center of the Study of Women's Literature. Here she founded and edited the journal Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. Between 1989 and 1998, she was a special lecturer and fellow at her old Cambridge college, Newnham, returning as a special supervisor in 2008. She also held the position of Emeritus Professor of Literature at Warwick University between 1998 and 2003.

Since 1970, while continuing to prolifically produce journalism, reviews and columns, Greer has written or edited around 20 books, on topics including women painters, seventeenth-century women poets, women and ageing, her own life and the rights of Indigenous Australians. These include The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work (1979), Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984), Daddy We Hardly Knew You (1989), The Change: Women Ageing and the Menopause (1991), Whitefella Jump Up: The Shortest Way to Nationhood (Quarterly Essay, 2003-04) and Shakespeare's Wife (2007). She has also been a highly visible media commentator on women and social issues in both the UK and Australia.

Nevertheless, more than 40 years after its publication, it is The Female Eunuch for which Greer remains best known and which cements her place as a leading feminist of the latter half of the twentieth century. Her public persona also continues to be influential: a 'feisty feminist' whose life, language and persona was confronting for conservative, patriarchal Australia of the 1960s and 70s; a 'ball-breaker' who could reduce male interviewers to jelly and enjoy it. Her work is divisive, supported and criticised by current feminist scholars, but it also continues to be entertaining and provocative. She currently divides her time between Britain and Australia and appears regularly at Australian writers' festivals. She has been recognised as an Australian Living National Treasure (2003) by the National Trust and appeared as an 'Australian Legend' on a postage stamp issued by Australia Post in 2011. She has also been awarded many honorary doctorates from universities around the world.

Published Resources


  • Greer, Germaine, The Female Eunuch, MacGibbon and Kee, London, England, 1970. Details
  • Greer, Germaine, Daddy, We Hardly Knew You, Hamish Hamilton, London, England, 1989. Details
  • Wallace, Christine, Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew, Faber and Faber, London, England, 1999. Details

Book Sections

  • 'Germaine Greer', in Encyclopedia of Feminist Literary Theory, Routledge, London, England, 2010. Details
  • Birch, Dinah, 'Germaine Greer', in The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 9 edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2009. Details
  • Margery, Susan, 'Germaine Greer', in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2008. Details

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details


Online Resources